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November 25, 2022

What do Architects need to know about Town Planning?

Architects play a vital role in any development project as they are the ones tasked with bringing a concept to reality. They are engaged by homeowners, business owners, developers and other stakeholders to deliver a design that will represent their client’s desires, and often the case, bring their dreams to life.

The concept stage is usually the first part of a long project, being followed then by the Town Planning process. A clever architect will build relationships with town planners in order to guarantee their clients with quick and efficient approvals, however some architects opt to provide this service themselves. This article will assist architects in how to better prepare for the town planning process.

Producing the Right Design

Preparing a workable design in accordance with the client brief is arguably one of the most important tasks an architect will undertake, however, it is important that the design they opt for has considered the requirements of the relevant Planning Scheme. As Planning Permits are required for most developments, assessment will need to be undertaken by a Council in order to obtain a permit. If a development does not respond to the requirements of the Planning Scheme, it may be refused and can cause severe delays and financial stress to the client. The best architects are those who have a firm understanding of the Planning Scheme.

First of all, an architect will need to determine whether the proposed development requires a permit. A guide to this can be found here. If a permit is required, the requirements that the development must adhere to can be found within the provisions of the respective Planning Scheme.

For instance, any two-dwelling proposal will be assessed against the following:

  • The State Planning Policy Framework (Clauses 11 to 20 of the Scheme) which includes policy objectives as set out by the Victorian State Government.
  • The Local Planning Policy Framework (Clauses 21 and 22 of the Scheme) which include localised policy as set out by the municipality.
  • The Zone of which the land is allocated within (i.e. General Residential Zone).
  • Any Overlays that are present on the land (i.e. Vegetation Protection Overlay).
  • Rescode at Clause 55 which includes residential design guidelines.

The SPPF provides broad objectives and are assessed with the least amount of weight.

The LPPF is important to consider, as some Councils contain residential design guidelines, neighbourhood character objectives, heritage controls and other policy items that should be considered as part of any dwelling or building development. Signage and uses policy can also be included in this section of the Scheme.

Some of these controls may include requirements to include landscaping, recess dwelling walls, reduce hard surfacing, avoid certain roof forms, etc. and it is crucial that any design considers this. A large emphasis is often placed by Councils on a development’s ability to meet these policy items.

The Zone in which the site is located will contain thresholds that apply to a dwelling development and most notably includes permit triggers, garden area requirements, maximum building heights, lot densities and allowable subdivision sizes. Some Zone schedules also contain additional policy layers and variations to the rescode requirements at Clause 54/55. It is important that an architect is aware of the differences between each Zone and Zone Schedule.

Whilst all sites contain a Zone, only some sites are contained within overlays. The purpose of Overlays is to provide strategies, objectives and policy to ensure that any use or development is catered to the unique context of the site. For instance, sites within a Heritage Overlay are considered to contain buildings or structures that are of significance to the area’s cultural or urban history. As a result, the Heritage Overlay reinforces restrictive policy with the intention to preserve, enhance and contribute to this significance. This means that dwelling developments must be designed to ensure that heritage features are maintained.

Design and Development Overlays are another key principle and require developments to respond to a localised design outcome that is conducive to the context of the area. For example, modern industrial parks will generally be subject to a DDO that ensures all new warehouses will result in an appearance that is of a certain scale and ‘look’, to avoid an outcome where different architectural styles are present in one area. Architects must ensure that any DDO requirements are considered in a building’s design.

Finally, Rescode is the key factor in ensuring a dwelling design can be achieved. Clause 54 applies to single dwelling developments (non-rural) and Clause 55 applies to two or more dwelling developments. Rescode contains a series of objectives and standards relating to all aspects of residential development to ensure that the outcome is one that is of an appropriate design, scale and form, provides acceptable liveability and access and does not adversely affect surrounding properties. It is important to note that a proposal must meet the objectives of Rescode, but should meet the Standards. This means that a design must ensure that the objective of each Item is met, but the Standard can be varied where required at the direction of Council.

The objective of Rescode Standards A5 and B8 is to “ensure that the site coverage respects the existing or preferred neighbourhood character and responds to the features of the site”, whilst the Standard specifies a 60% maximum site coverage parameter.

In the City of Stonnington for instance, with many residential allotments being quite narrow means that larger than average site coverages and lower than average garden areas are apparent. If a dwelling development did not meet the 60% maximum site coverage Standard, but was reflective of the broader Objective, it is commonplace for Council to vary the Standard and allow the development to be approved on this basis.

It is absolutely crucial that architects are aware of the Planning Scheme requirements for all different kinds of developments, so that they can effectively prepare a set of functional and allowable plans.

Town Planning Drawings

In accordance with the above insight, it is the task of the architect to prepare a set of town planning drawings prior to lodgement of an application. It is important that the town planning drawings contain only the information that is relevant to the application, as any additional information that is not required will likely cause confusion within Council and delay the process. A typical set of town planning drawings should include:

  • A wider site and neighbourhood plan.
  • An existing conditions plan.
  • A demolition plan.
  • A proposed floor plan (with floor plans for each level where required).
  • An existing elevations plan.
  • A proposed elevations plan.
  • Shadow diagrams for 9:00am, 12:00pm and 3:00pm.
  • A materials schedule.

Some architects will include internal renders, construction drawings and other information alongside these plans, however, it is important to only provide Council with documentation that is necessary for planning approval.

The Planning Application Process

Once a set of town planning drawings has been prepared having considered all the aforementioned matters. It can be lodged with Council alongside other supporting documentation to begin the planning application process. This document package will generally contain:

  • A technical town planning report.
  • A certificate of title.
  • Application plans.
  • Any number of relevant consultant’s reports.
  • A metropolitan planning levy certificate (for developments costing over 1 million dollars to construct).

This process is often tedious, and much time is spent waiting for Council and other parties to assess the application, but this is why it is important that all items aforementioned are considered prior to lodgement.

Council’s will generally request further information within 28 days of lodgement of the application, and these items may contain a number of external consultants reports or slight adjustments to the plans.

Once received, the application may need to be placed on public notice, and if so, it is advertised for a period of 14 days. Thereafter, it is assessed by the Council planning officer, and a decision is made.

It is expected that minor applications like two-dwelling developments take anywhere in the region of 3-6 months to reach approval, whilst larger developments such as apartments and mixed-use commercial buildings may take up to a year.

A Collaborative Approach

As an architect, many clients may approach you thinking that you have all the answers and that you are capable of getting a planning permit approved. Whilst the best architects are certainly capable of this, it is highly recommended that a collaborative approach between a client, architect and town planner is undertaken in order to see the best yield in terms of experience, professionalism, time-efficiency, and approval chances.

We at CS Town Planning have demonstrated experience of obtaining planning permits at the behest of many architects in Greater Melbourne, regional Victoria and domestically around the country. As part of our expertise, we work closely with architects to advise them on specific site capabilities, planning policy and development outcome potential. Our advice is reputable and reliable, and we take pride in providing certainty to our clients. Contact us at www.cstownplanning.com.au to speak with one of our experts if you are seeking guidance on your next development.